Coloring to Reflect (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I finally started a page in the “Trans Affirming Coloring Book” I purchased a while back. I do not like to engage with the human figure in any way artistically, for reasons I do not fully understand. The adult coloring book seemed like a low-risk way to explore some of my feelings and thoughts on this.

I recall having dolls as a child, and sketching human figures as a young teenager. I then went on to develop an eating disorder which may have been the start of my lack of comfort. I think it was when I came into awareness of the extent of my trauma history and my dissociation that I not only disliked looking at myself in the mirror, but also began to have substantial difficulty in connecting with any form of artwork that related to a person/the human body. I prefer visual art that is either abstract or of natural settings with no people present.

The longer I’m sitting with this topic, the more it makes me think I need to create a self-portrait so that I can approach rather than avoid this topic. I didn’t think twice about the fact that the coloring book sat unused for months on my living room table, but I now see that it represents a huge block I have inside of me in regards to how I relate to myself. I want to ease myself into the idea of sitting in front of a mirror or looking a photograph of myself to create an image, so I will start by completing more pages in it. How do you feel in regards to images of people? Have you ever created a self-portrait? What reflections have coloring books shown you?

A Half-Formed Image (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I got a new phone today after cracking the screen on my old one. It took a solid hour to transfer my data from the old to the new, during which I felt an odd sensation of in-between. It was difficult to not have everything settled and set the way I like it. It made me consider other instances of neither here or there and how they affect me.

I love to travel but am happiest in the planning for rather than the doing. I like to, from the comforts of home, imagine where I could go and what I could do. I think it is a sense of all possible futures sitting before me. Once the journey begins, the possible comes a singular reality and the magic tends to fade.

As far as visual imagery is concerned, I think the moments between leaving and arriving are a half-finished drawing with the outline partially sketched. Sufficient information exists to allow me to see what it will become, but I am left without the sense of completion a final image produces.

It is actually the collapsing of the possible into the probable that feels the most constricting to me. It is helpful to consider that erasers and new sheets of paper exist. Maybe the journey has way-stops and interludes I could not anticipate and the final lines look nothing like what I’m anticipating they will. I live in both deep terror and profound craving of the unknown, the blank page, and only a fleeting sense of relief at the finalized etching, what it was. I want to grow in appreciation for what is becoming as the image comes into relief.

A photograph of a small journal into which a colored pencil drawing of a sunflower-like image has been sketched.

Draw Anything (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I have been so blocked when it comes to drawing these past few months. When my perception of external threat reaches a certain level, as it has at my job, I shut off from my creative energies in a futile attempt to protect the hopeful and joyful parts of self from harm. My viewpoint of the world being bleak and lacking pleasure is no doubt related to this inner exile.

So, for today, I pulled out a small sketchbook in which I’d created several drawings last year. I was stunned to notice there were several images I had little memory of creating, which tracks with the internal separateness I experience. I decided to put as little pressure on myself as possible and to draw a sunflower. Upon making this decision, I immediately felt overwhelmed by the prospect of accuracy and the need to research how to create a sunflower. I almost gave up before deciding realism wasn’t my goal and that I could draw an image that had the essence of a sunflower even if it didn’t accurately reflect what it would look like.

The experience of drawing itself followed a familiar pattern. I spent several minutes in a blissful state, happy I had finally cracked open a sketchbook and was “being creative” at last. I felt relaxed and peaceful. Soon enough, however, once I’d made the decisions needed for how to finish my drawing and switched into filling in the petals, my mindset changed. I suspect that this was because the decision-making part of my brain, the prefrontal cortex, was no longer required as the central player, and I likely transitioned to relaying on the “muscle memory” part of the brain, my cerebellum, to complete the task at hand. Doing so meant that my thinker (prefrontal cortex) was back to having free reign to ruminated and stress out about upcoming events.

There is an obligation coming up this week where I may experience transphobia. I found myself worried that I was embedding anxiety into my drawing in that, when I look at it, all I will think about is (possible) harm. I have serious weirdness with both holding onto peaceful mental images and with creating them, and this small encounter may offer me a few insights as to why this could be happening. The moment of change today seemed to be when I lost my ability to be mindfully present with what I was doing.

Art is not always pleasant and it does not always make me feel better. I am so grateful that I am learning this lesson on my own rather than trying to go to art therapy and giving up after the first session because I think it didn’t “help.” It takes a disproportionate amount of energy and effort for me to engage in it as something in the process gives free reign for my inner torment to rise up. The threats I perceive from the outside do not fade from view when I’m being creative, if anything, they take shape and become manifest. This doesn’t mean I should avoid art, but rather, that it may be a way to confront my fears rather than to escape them.

Are you mindfully aware of yourself when you are creating visual (or other) art? What is the relationship between your emotions and your artwork? What helps you overcome blocks in your ability to create?

Inspiration for Intuitive Cards (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I have been working on my In an Open Hand intuitive card deck for at least a year and a half now. It contains 64 cards, each with a different word and prompts for different parts of self for reflection. It is also split into seasons. I’ve finished the prompts for fall and winter, but have much left to do for spring and summer. I’ve been waiting impatiently for spring to be on the horizon so that I can get back to creating in this way again. As I wait for signs winter is lifting, I decided to spend some time reflecting on the process so far.

If you are interested in creating your own intuitive deck, here are a few tips and ideas about how you might go about doing so, based on what I’ve learned from my own experience:

  1. Decide on a few themes that have a numerical basis to them. For example, I’ve incorporated moon phases, seasons of the year, body systems and the like into my deck. This allowed me to create “suits” as well as types of cards within each suit. Doing this allows for a more intimate focus on a particular area of your inner world and can help to give you some direction.
  2. Consider the purpose you would like your deck to serve in your life and what you would like to learn from it. Intuitive to me speaks to exploring my internal experiences, but it might mean something else to you. What I love about making my own set of cards is that I am not conforming myself into someone else’s way of conceptualizing things but can be as free as my imagination will allow me to be.
  3. Do words or images speak more to your inner world and your intuition? If images are how you process, you may want to begin by creating the artwork for each card and then letting your ideas flow from there. I am much more comfortable with my writing skills, so I’ve started with laying out my ideas in language and am still working on finding a way to represent them visually.
  4. For which type of person do you want your deck to be accessible? As a non-binary person, I’ve been extremely frustrated by the strict gender binary most tarot and oracle cards incorporate, so it was important for me to find a way to represent my spirituality that would not reinforce the gender binary. Even if you are the only one who is going to use the cards you create, spend some time making sure you are welcoming all parts of self and not solely the ones with which you are most comfortable.
  5. Take your time. I have gotten a lot of fulfillment from having an ongoing creative project with no set end-date and a maximum amount of flexibility. I feel inspired by having something in my life that isn’t focused on deadlines, productivity, making an impression or fitting in. It is possible that you might start creating an intuitive deck and find yourself led in another creative direction. Be open to possibility.

If you have dedication to inner work and/or creativity, what wisdom or inspiration do you have to share? What word or image would feel appropriate to your day today? What does it mean to you to attend to your intuition?

In the Age of Entrophy (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

Today is a day in which I remind myself art is not the same thing as beauty. I tend to lean much more towards the products of creativity I find aesthetically pleasing and soothing, rather than considering the entire range of responses that could possibly be evoked. I do this, in large part, because I am much more easily disgusted than the average person.

Part of the research on disgust suggests it is an emotional response that evolved from processes we developed to keep us safe from contamination. For this post, I’m defining entrophy as disorder, chaos, destruction and death. Contamination and entrophy (in its physical sense) are connected in that death and chaos increase the risk of viruses, fungi and bacteria being spread.

For my reflection, I decided to take some time to analyze my somatosensory system (ability to feel pain, temperature, pressure, etc.) as well as my sense of smell as it relates to entrophy. I avoided my visual system because the images of things that are unpleasant can haunt me for months and are pretty much unbearable. My misophonia, as it relates to my sense of sound, is strongly tied into my disgust response as well. What, then, is the felt sense of entrophy, and what does it smell like? If you are as easily disgusted or bothered by disorder as I am, you may want to stop reading here!

Disharmonious Feelings

  • Feeling another’s warmth drift from you the moment after an embrace
  • Being bumped into in a crowded public area
  • Missing a step when walking down stairs
  • Dropping a heavy or valuable object
  • Running over a curb while driving
  • Spilling food you’ve just prepared in every direction
  • Trying to concentrate in a stuffy room
  • Opening an umbrella when it is very windy outside
  • Shaking someone’s cold, limp or clammy hand
  • Sitting in the passenger seat of a dirty car

Scents of chaos

  • Body odor combined with perfume/cologne
  • A rotting animal corpse among the flowers on the edge of the road
  • Excessive perfume/cologne in a sterile area (like a doctor’s office)
  • An unidentifiable unpleasant odor
  • The smell of an appliance motor burning out in a kitchen while cooking

This post, especially the part on smell, was extremely hard for me to write and made me feel nauseous. I had to stop after only a few ideas because I felt so grossed out. I recall (at one of my worst jobs ever) getting yelled at by a supervisor in front of coworkers because I’d told someone at the place I worked at that I found a situation to be disgusting. I am unable to do much to mask my “eww” face, even when I want to in order to not have other people feel judged or criticized. I joke with others a lot about how “weak my stomach is” and such to lessen how intensely they perceive my possible responses, but, even after all of these experiences, I am still a bit amazed to realize how visceral my reaction is to simply thinking about situations involving entrophy.

I question to what extent this way of being reflect neurodivergence on my part as I’ve had so many social interactions which indicate others are not all at the same place I am with it. My capacity for disgust clearly limits what I can handle in everyday life and has, at times, led to avoidance behaviors. Part of the reason I’ve socially withdrawn to the extent I have is that I am so sensitive to smells, physical sensations and sounds that it makes it hard for me to be around others, especially in unpredictable situations. Clean, organized, spacious, low-stimuli environments are where I function most effectively, which is why my house appeals to me.

What, for you, does entrophy represent? What situations, in terms of smells and/or your felt sense, remind you of entrophy and/or evoke a disgust response? To what extent are you affected by these types of situations?

Beginnings (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

My attempts at creativity have been zilch in the last few weeks. I needed to start somewhere, so I decided to draw a card from my Daily Works of Art deck; I chose the beginning card. Words come more easily to me than images or sounds, so I determined the best course of action is to ponder the word and to brainstorm the visual and auditory representations of it that arise, in the hopes that a few will spark further creativity.

A beginning might be A/an…

  • Acorn buried by a squirrel
  • Eggs tucked into a nest
  • Pink and purple sky as the sun rises
  • Cloud appearing
  • First drops of rain
  • Flame flickering
  • Splash of a pebble in water
  • Footstep into the forest
  • First snowflake drifting downward
  • Perch of a water strider on the surface of a lake
  • Locked gaze of a hawk in a tree
  • Stretch of a cat’s limbs before standing
  • Soft rustle of leaves as a breeze passes by
  • Murkiness of night sky under a new moon
  • Shadow of a tree in dawnlight
  • Lap of waves on a seashore
  • Curve of woods into valley
  • Scamper of salamander onto land
  • Rise of birdsong in first light
  • Budding of flower before blossoming

I enjoyed this exercise quite a bit and didn’t feel that I’d even come close to exhausting possible images and sounds by the end of it. I found myself wanting to bring in other senses such as touch and smell, so I’ll need to work on that in the future. I kept questioning whether what I was imagining was actually the start of something, or whether I’d been influenced to view it as the start through media such as books and films I’ve seen. In the natural world, most experiences are both interrelated and cyclical, so is sunrise really the start or does sunset portend a new beginning?

I noticed a few themes in my list. I think I associate the morning and the beginning of the afternoon most strongly with beginnings. I also think of the first action in a series of movements at the beginning, although, at least in humans, a good amount of mental activity and sensory input may transpire before any physical shifts are observed. I also conceptualize the initiation of precipitation as a starting, although rain and snow are but one part of a larger weather cycle, and come after a number of other alterations in wind, temperature and moisture levels have happened. I find myself inspired as I sit with this, because it leads me to conclude everything is beginning just as much as it is middle and ending, even if the liner framing we humans tend to put on our experiences wouldn’t hold space for this.

What images and/or sounds signal beginning to you? What aspects of nature speak most directly in your mind to “something new?” How do you integrate the idea of cycles and new-from-old into your thoughts on beginning?

Expansiveness (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I contracted myself into the smallest spaces into which I could fit, believing my happiness lay in being likeable.

When I found myself (in pieces), I realized how much room, mine alone to inhabit, I’d been conceding to others.

Now, I’m smacking the walls, splintering the frame, willing myself into the largest existence I can create.


No boxes. No binaries. No yielding my place of power.


Certain

days shrink me.

people coerce me into thinking these walls are made of granite.

experiences undermine my foothold.


But I am imminent.

My resolve will harden my shoulders and upright my posture.

Embodied and emboldened, I will demolish any resistance to the entirety who I am.

A dog's footprint embedded in a few inches of snow.

A Study of Stillness (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I recently shared a multitude of ways to practice mindfulness and a reader reminded me to also include photography as a method. As I’ve been gearing up for having to return to work, I’ve felt my creative connection diminishing, so I decided, after an unexpected snowfall, that observing stillness (and movement) through a series of photographs would be a good exercise. The simple act of walking outside for five minutes was transformed by this experience, so I need to repeat it!

A photograph of a branch on a bush with red leaves and berries holding large puffs of snow.
A branch on a bush with red leaves and berries holding large puffs of snow.
A photograph of a maze of tree branches extending from a tree off the side to the right. The branches are covered in snow.
A maze of tree branches in snow.
A photograph of a part of a metal bench with a single drop of icy water clinging to its lower ledge.
A bench with a single drop of icy water.
A photograph of a web of large tree branches coated in snow.
A web of tree branches in snow.
A photograph of the ends of tree branches holding snow.
The ends of tree branches holding snow.

I’m glad I spent a few minutes in nature today noticing where there was stillness and where there was movement. I was frustrated that I couldn’t fully capture the large clumps of snow that kept falling off the trees, perhaps I need to work on making short videos as well. Where can you notice stillness in nature today?

Future Dreams (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

At the end of each year, I spend time reflecting on how my life unfolded, who I am as a person and where I’d like to develop in the next year. This year marks the third time I’ve engaged in the process and I love the fresh start it gives me. I keep my highest aspirations, my mission statement, abstract, so that I can allow the universe to bring me experiences to round out what I’ve written. I also write out specific, targeted goals for key areas such as finances, health and personal growth. The practice as a whole feels like an invitation to myself to be accountable in a way that views failures as setbacks rather than disasters and successes as opportunities for both pride and gratitude.

For 2020, my personal mission statement reads as follows:

I make sacred work of every moment and am here and now with all of myself. I cherish my inner world as I own my limitations and, in doing so, exhibit kindness and generosity of spirit. I embody powerful vulnerability as I gather myself whole.

I believe that all the planning and personal effort in the world does not guarantee our goals will be realized. There is an element of serendipity and luck to everything we do that also affects our chances of reaching the stars to which we aspire. I lay out what I want for the next year not solely as an enterprise in what I am going to work to achieve, but also as an invitation to Spirit to bring into my life that which I need to make manifest my hopes. What are your goals and your mission statement for 2020? To what extent do you think you will reach (or not reach) what you’ve set out on your own, and to what extent will you surrender your dreams to the universe and fate? Which miracles and beauty does the tableau of your future hold?

Creature Comforts (Daily Works of Art)

Today’s card draw invited me to make art that would represent home. In contemplating this task, I was drawn to the idea of creating an atmosphere more than a visual representation. For me, the concept of home (not my childhood home but my ideal one) captures feelings of safety, ease and connection.

In attending to my senses, my sense of smell, touch and hearing were the ones that rose to the foreground (along with images of candles burning). Bread or cookies baking are cozy smells, but my physical health won’t benefit from having them circulating on a regular basis. I decided to purchase an oil warmer to gently fill my living space with calming and soothing scents. In regards to touch, I am contemplating textures such as a soft robe that I can add to my environment. In terms of sound, I want to find a cheap way to play relaxing music at all times (rather than having to use the same speaker I use for any media as I don’t own a television).

In sum, the concepts of ideal home and spa are apparently the same thing to me! I like the idea of thinking of art not simply as a visual experience, but also as something that incorporates all of my senses. I’ve been to a few parties lately and cannot believe how much my mood and comfort level shifts when the music starts blasting versus when there is only the hum of conversation. The atmosphere sets the scene and I often attribute my reactions solely to interpersonal dynamics I’m experiencing, instead of attending to how much the place and surroundings affect me. Hopefully, in noticing to the setting and viewing it as a way to represent a concept I crave deeply–home–I can then set the stage for fuller presence. What sensory experiences represent home (in terms of what you’ve like it to be) to you? What does home look like, smell like, feel like, taste like and/or sound like? What is one action you could take today to create it?